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April 18, 2014

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Egypt accuses Islamist group of staring armed wing

Updated Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014 | 10:26 a.m.

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian authorities on Sunday accused the ousted president's Muslim Brotherhood of forming a "military wing" to stage attacks on security forces in a southern province, as months-long street rallies by the group's supporters wane but low-level violence steadily rises.

Attackers are increasingly using Molotov cocktails and home-made grenades to burn police vehicles and strike troop barracks in Cairo. New groups supporting the ousted president have claimed responsibility for the attacks on social networking sites and Jihadi websites.

Security forces have been arresting the administrators of Facebook pages accused of inciting attacks against police.

The escalation comes nearly two months ahead of presidential elections following the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in popularly-backed military coup in July.

Morsi's group and his allies have staged non-stop demonstrations since, denouncing a deadly crackdown by security forces on their supporters and demanding Morsi's reinstatement.

Secular-minded and liberal youth groups have denounced what has become a climate of both official and private intimidation against critics of the authorities. Some of the icons of the 2011 uprising that overthrew longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak have even been jailed.

Leading Egyptian Islamist and a former presidential candidate Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh warned that the ongoing crackdown by the military-backed interim government has terrified most of the country.

"You created the republic of fear," he roared at a news conference Sunday.

Abolfotoh, who joined mass protests against Morsi last summer, repeated that he will not contest this spring's upcoming presidential election. He came in fourth in the 2012 presidential vote after defecting from the Brotherhood. He also called the vote a "farce" since it would take place amid "suppression."

He also criticized the military for throwing its weight behind army chief Field Marshal Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi's likely presidential bid. El-Sissi enjoys wide popularity among many Egyptians who see him as a savoir after leading the July coup.

Following a series of bombings and suicide attacks, authorities branded the Brotherhood a terrorist organization, which it categorically denies. An al-Qaida inspired group has claimed responsibility for most of the bombings.

Over the past weeks however, smaller, previously unknown groups believed to be disgruntled Brotherhood supporters have turned to violence, staging acts of vandalism such as burning police vehicles or attacking security forces. These groups reject the Brotherhood's official policy of staging only peaceful demonstrations.

The alleged "military wing" evoked on Sunday by the Interior Ministry was described as being based in the city of Beni Suef, south of Cairo. Ministry spokesman Hani Abdel-Latif named 12 people on Sunday he said belonged to the alleged Brotherhood-led unit.

In a televised statement, Abdel-Latif said the group ran surveillance, hunted down security forces, and provided shelter for militants. The ministry accused the men of killing five policemen and plotting more attacks.

Abdel-Latif's statement was followed by footage of a man who identified himself as part of a group that killed five policemen in attacks from motorcycles last month. He said he was the son of a Brotherhood leader and had received weapons training.